Conscientious Objectors, The


Conscientious Objectors, The




WWI conscientious objection / objector


Fort Leavenworth, Kansas


Swarthmore College Peace Collection


Swarthmore College Peace Collection


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The Conscientious Objectors

To the Editor of the Nation:

SIR: I enclose part of a letter from a conscientious objector in the Leavenworth Disciplinary Barracks, in the hope that through the columns of the Nation you may be able to give it publicity and perhaps induce the Administration to put an end to this frightful situation.

Among those who are confined in the Barracks are an ordained minister, two University of Wisconsin graduates, one of whom is also a college professor and the other also a graduate of the Columbia Law School; a student at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, and a newspaper reporter. The remainder of the men, so far as I can identify them, are Mennonites, Quakers, orthodox Jews, or members of a religious sect from Benton Harbor, Michigan, known as the Israelites, or more familiarly as the “Holy Rollers.”


Chicago, November 13

“In the ‘hole,’ a dungeon in the sub-basement, the men are fed only bread and water, and are handcuffed to their cell doors for nine or more hours a day. During the first week they stand with their hands crossed at their breasts, during the second week they hang by their wrists. The ‘screws’ (sentries) are brutal. I have gone down with food from the mess hall several times to observe them. The air reeks with curses. I have not heard these fellows suggest anything nearer a human reaction than a bestial laugh at some lewd tale. It follows that these men handle the prisoners with little gentleness. X has been beaten periodically. I saw him dragged by the collar, choking, across the rough floor of the corridors and the barber shop into the bath. One sentry knocked him down upon the cement floor, another undressed him with such brutality that he screamed with pain and three of them forced him into the shower and scrubbed him with coarse soap. The Russians from Riley came out of confinement yesterday, wan and staggering. They have gone to work. Both are religious objectors. Some of the Russians now in confinement have gone through the worst experiences in jail which the worst of Czars had to offer. They said that there they were permitted to cook their own food and were let alone. They swear that their life there was easy in comparison to this.

“Fellows who came from Camp Sherman last week declined to don the prison garb.* Two of them persisted. They were beaten into submission and the clothes were forced on them. For a time one of them wore his bundle around his neck, refusing to touch it, but he, too, was forcibly dressed. It is said that a captain witnessed the original beating and that he turned his back and walked off without interceding. The sentries to whom he left the job dragged the boys to the bathroom and treated them to X’s experience, scrubbing the flesh of one of them with the ubiquitous galvanic soap and a course scrubbing brush. The water was so cold that the rest of us spent scarcely three minutes under it and retreated. Yet these conscientious objectors were held under it for nearly fifteen minutes. Corporal Hunter is being tried for beating up two Russians – Holy Jumpers from Texas – for their refusal to salute and work. He administered one of his pummelings in the office of the executive officer, who himself had to stop the struggle, but he is being tried because his specific act was not authorized. [He has since been suspended for having taken action without authority.] The ‘hole’ treatment is known by every one in all its details and is accepted by the authorities.” . . .


“Conscientious Objectors, The,” Conscientious Objection & the Great War: 1914-1920, accessed September 21, 2021,

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